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Qualitative Research: What is Phenomenology?

In this blog post, I briefly share my notes on qualitative research, particularly on phenomenology. I must admit that I am not an expert on this matter, neither am I a teacher who has taught a course on qualitative research or phenomenology. I am just sharing with all of you the notes that I have written based on my readings. Therefore, when you read this, please keep that in mind 🙂

When I first started to read about phenomenology, I thought it was such an interesting approach. I am really interested in understanding people, their lived experiences, and how they came to be. But I wasn’t sure whether this approach would be suitable for my study. Despite that, while I was doing my literature review, I still tried to understand what phenomenology is, in case I’d need to justify later why I choose not to employ this method.

I also wanted to understand the difference between all the major qualitative approaches because once you understand what you want to study and which is the best approach, you can better construct your research questions (That’s the challenging thing about academic writing, you always need to justify your reasons for doing something).

The research questions of a phenomenological study may seem simple. It could be as simple as

What is it like to be a parent of a student with special needs?

Previously, I had no idea that a research question could be like that. It seems simple, but since phenomenology is the study of the essence of a lived phenomenon of the human experience, so the question could be very wide and open-ended.

Anyways, here are my notes about phenomenology. Hope it helps!


a) What is phenomenology? (Based on Max van Mannen, 2017).

Phenomenology is the methodology that focuses on studying the unique, lived experiences or phenomena of individuals.

b) The AIM of phenomenology:

To shed light on human’s lived experiences, and to understand the essence/ meaning of the phenomena by reflecting on the past using phenomenological methods.

man, stress, male

c) What does “lived experience” refer to? Is it the same as personal experience?

“Lived experiences” refer to the experiences that we live through without reflection or theories, as Max van Mannen (2017) states, “living through pre-reflective, prepredicative, nonreflective or atheoretic experience…” (p.812). It showcases the raw, real-life moments of our lives.

“Lived experience” also includes the odd, exciting, mundane moments of everyday life.

d) What’s the main method of phenomenology?

Bracketing/epoche: suspending the researcher’s beliefs and theories and allowing the participant’s phenomena / lived experience to emerge as it is.

e) Outcome of phenomenology:

Understanding the essence of the phenomenon by highlighting the meanings of the lived experience.

f) What is the unit of analysis?

Studying several people who have shared the same experience

g) What is the challenge of phenomenology?

To recover the lived moments without reducing the meanings that have passed to concepts, theories and themes.

This also emphasizes the fact that phenomenology DOES NOT include deriving meaning from concepts, words, and texts but instead, it is the experience that was actually lived by the individual. So this is where it differentiates itself from case studies.

g) Within phenomenology, there are said to be two branches which are (Neubauer, Witkop, Varpio, 2019)

  • Descriptive/transcendental phenomenology

Each person’s experience is considered a complete description of the phenomena

Scholars that you can refer to: Husserl – Polkinghorne, Moustakas, Giorgi

  • Inferential/hermeneutic phenomenology

Aim: to understand the deeper meanings of the human experience and how his current life influences the phenomenon

Within this branch, it is said that the researcher’s interpretation or role can help to guide the study

Scholars to refer to: Heidegger, Max van Mannen

These are very short notes as they are not exhaustive. Therefore, if you really need to understand more about phenomenology, I highly suggest you read Moustakas and van Mannen to understand it better. But if you are a beginner, Creswell does differentiate the five qualitative approaches in his book.

Stuck on writing your literature review? Check out my blogposts on how to write a literature review!

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